Road games are never easy in the NBA.
That said, this was one the Wolves would have loved to have put in the left-hand column. The 2-7 Wizards on a four-game losing streak…first night of a back-to-back…it sure would have been nice.
The first quarter included a blistering Kevin Love mercilessly raining an array of three-pointers down on the home team. Ricky Rubio picked up two quick fouls with about five minutes left in the frame, and only played seven first half minutes after being charged with a cheap foul guarding John Wall after his return in the second quarter.
Surprisingly, the Wolves bench (plus Pekovic) actually expanded the Minnesota lead while on the floor, at one point building up a 16-point advantage. And don’t tell me you saw that coming.
It was Good J.J. tonight, alongside the lone edition of Good Alexey that’s been spotted to this point in the current campaign. Dante Cunningham played very well too, and leaving at least one starter on the floor at all times turned out to be an exceedingly intelligent decision by coach Rick Adelman.
Believe it or not, the Wolves’ starters actually relinquished some of the ground that the bench had gained in their time on the court. Love finished the half with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, while Nikola Pekovic played very well (11 points on 4 of 6 shooting) while mostly being matched up with Marcin Gortat. Barea and Brewer each chipped in 8 points of their own while Kevin Martin was cold for much of the half. At the break, the Wolves led 63-51.
The Wizards owned the third quarter, mostly with hustle and simply beating the Wolves in the open floor. Washington put up 30 points, scoring almost at will, as the Wolves saw an inordinate amount of shots seemingly go in and out of the hoop. The Wizards grabbed the lead with a few minutes remaining before the visitors tied it at 81 apiece heading to the final frame. Altogether, Washington outscored Minnesota 30-18 in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was more of the same, only uglier. The pace and scoring slowed down considerably, and the Wolves failed to get anything going on offense. The defense was much improved, but the movement and efficiency on the offensive end was non-existent. Not exactly a great sign for the first night of 5 games in 7 days (or the 6th game of 10 games in 14 days, if you’d rather look at it that way).
And down the stretch? The missed free throws, the poor defensive rebounding, the lack of ball movement on offense…all viable reasons for the loss. With the Wolves holding a 98-97 lead with just under a minute to play after Kevin Martin’s first made three-pointer of the game, noted genius and Wizards head coach Randy Wittman dialed up an indefensible play: the Nene in the Lane for Eight Seconds set.
It was part of what was actually a solid offensive possession by Washington, leading to a Martell Webster three-pointer that gave the Wizards a 100-98 lead. Martin missed a contested turnaround jumper on the left baseline, and all that was left was the kicking and screaming, after the Wolves failed to foul the Wizards until 12.9 seconds were remaining.
Nene, of all people, drained a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining to seal the win for the Wizards and bring the final score to 104-100. An opportunity lost for the Wolves, no doubt. We’ll see if they can cancel it out with an unexpected victory tomorrow evening against the Clippers.
– Free throws. Ouch. Love shot an uncharacteristic 5 of 9 from the line. Pekovic shot 3 of 5, but missed a pair in the final two minutes. Kevin Martin only got to the line once. As a team, the Wolves shot 16-24 (66.7%) from the line, while the Wizards went 15-15.
– Rubio only played 19 minutes. He played just 7 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, but Adelman chose to go with Barea down the stretch. It was a debatable choice, as Rubio was actually playing fairly well, and Barea followed up a fantastic first half with a shaky second stanza. Rubio shot 3 of 5 and put up 10 points and 4 rebounds, but dished just 2 assists to 3 turnovers and had zero steals for the first time since last winter.
– Love started the game 3 of 3 from long range, but finished with a 1-7 stretch. His final line of 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists was good, but nobody on the team played very well for much of the second half. And that includes Love.
– Despite the back-to-back and the good minutes that the bench played in the first half, Adelman further shortened his bench, playing just 9 players, while everyone but Shved and Rubio played at least 22 minutes. That bench unit continued to include Robbie Hummel (22 minutes) instead of Derrick Williams.
– The Wolves host the Los Angeles Clippers tomorrow night at Target Center. The game tips off at 7:00 p.m.